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Shatzer v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 1, 2015

William Bryan Shatzer, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.

ORDER

BRIDGET S. BADE, Magistrate Judge.

William Bryan Shatzer (Plaintiff) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying his application for benefits under the Social Security Act (the Act). The parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), and have filed briefs in accordance with Local Rule of Civil Procedure 16.1. For the following reasons, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands for benefits.

I. Procedural Background

On August 17, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Act, and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. (Tr. 25.)[1] Plaintiff alleged that he had been disabled since July 1, 2008. ( Id. ) Plaintiff later amended the disability onset date to March 1, 2010. ( Id. ) After the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff's initial application and his request for reconsideration, he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). After conducting a hearing, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 25-37.) This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-7); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.981 (explaining the effect of a disposition by the Appeals Council). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of this decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

In his opening brief, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred by failing to provide legally sufficient reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's subjective complaints, the lay opinion of his wife, and the opinion of treating physician Edward Song, M.D. (Doc. 16 at 16-24.) Plaintiff asks the Court to reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand for an award of benefits. (Doc. 16 at 24-26.) In response to Plaintiff's opening brief, the Commissioner filed a "Brief Requesting Remand." (Doc. 23.) The Commissioner "concedes that the ALJ erred in evaluating the testimony of Plaintiff, the lay witness statement of Plaintiff's wife, and the opinions of Edward Song, M.D." ( Id. at 1-2.) The Commissioner argues that the decision should be reversed, but the case should be remanded for further proceedings. ( Id. at 2.) In his reply, Petitioner disagrees and argues that matter should be remanded for an immediate award of benefits because if the evidence that the ALJ erroneously rejected is credited as true, it supports a finding of disability. (Doc. 26.) As discussed below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands for an award of benefits.

II. Medical Treatment Evidence

The record reflects that Plaintiff received continuing treatment for pain in multiple areas of his back, including his neck. He was also treated for knee pain. Diagnostic tests revealed degenerative disc disease in L2-3 and L5-S1 (Tr. 327), disc space narrowing and facet degenerative changes (Tr. 342), disc degeneration at L3-4, L4-5, and L5-S1 with right paracentral disc bulge at L3-4 and left sided disc bulge at L4-5 and L5-S1 (Tr. 366-67), severe degenerative disc disease at L5-S1 and severe facet arthropathy at L4-5 and L5-S1 (Tr. 374), moderate disc height loss and spondylosis at C5-6 and moderate central spinal canal stenosis at that level (Tr. 409-10), postoperative changes at L4-5 and L5-S1 with associated disc space narrowing at L1-2 and L2-3 (Tr. 630), and disc protrusion at L5-S.1 (Tr. 771-72).

Plaintiff's treatment included back surgery (Tr. 314), narcotic pain medication (Tr. 315-16, 356-58, 751-54), epidural steroid injections (Tr. 315-16, 353-55, 445, 449), medial branch blocks (Tr. 362, 365, 473), the implantation of a lumbar spinal cord stimulator (Tr. 465-66, 474), radio frequency ablation (Tr. 473), fusion surgery from L4-S1 (Tr. 420-24), physical therapy (Tr. 529), cervical fusion of C5-6 (Tr. 660-62), and trigger point injections in the thoracic spine (Tr. 790-93).

III. Opinion Evidence

A. Edward Song, M.D.

On January 19, 2012, Dr. Song completed a Medical Assessment of Ability to do Work-Related Physical Activity. (Tr. 653-54.) Dr. Song opined that, in an eight hour work day, Plaintiff could sit for less than two hours, stand or walk less than two hours, and lift and carry less than ten pounds. (Tr. 653.) He also opined that Plaintiff could not bend, crawl, climb, kneel, crouch, balance, or stoop. ( Id. ) He opined that Plaintiff had moderately severe pain and fatigue. (Tr. 654.)

On September 2012, Dr. Song completed a second Medical Assessment of Ability to do Work-Related Physical Activity. (Tr. 773-74.) He opined that in an eight hour work day, Plaintiff could sit for two hours, stand or walk for two hours, and lift and carry less than twenty pounds. (Tr. 773.) He also found that Plaintiff could not bend or stoop. ( Id. ) He also opined that Plaintiff has moderately severe pain and fatigue. (Tr. 774.)

B. Lay Opinion Testimony

Plaintiff's wife completed a third-party function report. (Tr. 279-86.) She stated that Plaintiff could not sit or stand for prolonged periods of time. (Tr. 280.) She stated that Plaintiff "strain[ed]" to put on socks and shoes, and that he had pain in his back and legs when bending. ( Id. ) She also stated that Plaintiff could make the bed, do dishes and ...


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